Boston, MA- The Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks and Denver Pioneers are at opposite ends of the college hockey history spectrum. Denver boasts eight national championships, tied for the second most in all of college hockey. And they have two Frozen Fours in the recent past along with a National Championship in 2017.
Mankato reached seven Frozen Fours at the Division II and III levels between 1978 and 1991, claiming the 1980 DII National Championship. But after jumping to the DI ranks in 1996, the Mavericks struggled to find postseason success. They only won their first NCAA DI Tournament game last season after six previous attempts across 24 seasons of DI hockey. They made the Frozen Four for the first time last season as well. A year later with a packed house in Boston, Minnesota State earned a spot in their first National Championship Game. Their reward? A matchup with a college hockey blue blood who’s loaded with talent again and ready to make some history.
These are the top scoring teams in the country. Denver leads with 4.25 goals per game and Mankato is second at 4.17. These teams take the most (1493) and fourth most (1410) shots in the country. Minnesota State has the best shooting percentage in the country (12.6%) compared to Denver’s 7th best percentage (11.4).
Hobey Baker Finalist Bobby Brink (40GP- 14G/43A/57PTS) leads the country in scoring and his line mates Cole Guttman (40GP- 19G/26A/45PTS) and Ryan Barrow (40PG- 7G/13A/20PTS) form a dynamic and potent unit at the tip of Denver’s spear. Carter Savoie (38GP-23G/22A/45PTS) has also spent time on Guttman and Brink’s left and scored the overtime winner against Michigan on Thursday off a Brink pass. Brett Stapely (40GP- 14G/22A/36PTS) and Carter Mazur (39GP- 14G/22A/36PTS) provide excellent scoring depth.
“They play with a lot of confidence,” observed Minnesota State Head Coach Mike Hastings. “They like to possess the puck when they get inside the offensive zone. You look at the goal that was scored the other day in overtime, created turnover, getting to the corner, they attacked the net. They’re substance-based. They’ve got depth. I just think they have a certain swagger about them when they get a puck. They pursue it when they don’t have it.”
Speaking on his team’s transition game, Pioneer Head Coach David Carle noted that “I think it’s predictable and fast. Our D don’t hang on to the puck too long. I think our forwards like to get the puck quicker so they can have the puck, have the ability to do what they do, attacking off the rush or getting pucks in behind defensive opponents.”
Denver’s blue line is headlined by Mike Benning (40GP- 14G/22A/36PTS), who recorded two assists including the set-up for the overtime winner. Sean Behrens (36 GP- 3G/26A/29PTS) blocked four shots against Michigan and gets meaningful defensive minutes for the Pios. And a pair of Detroit Red Wings draft picks, Shai Buium (38GP- 3G/14A/17PTS) and Antti Tuomisto (34GP- 1G/8A/9PTS) provide size and physicality at 6’3” and 6’5” respectively.
The single biggest partial question mark is in net. Magnus Chrona (36GP-2.14GAA /.909SV%) had the lowest save percentage of any goaltender entering the weekend and only faced 21 shots from Michigan in Thursday’s semi-final. But he’s posted a .936 save percentage in six postseason games and hasn’t allowed more than two goals in any game this playoff year. The Stockholm, Sweden, native has raised his game in the playoffs and will have to play his best game to match Mankato and claim the program’s ninth National Championship.
Chrona’s counterpart is Minnesota State’s strongest asset. 2022 Hobey Baker Award winner Dryden McKay (42GP- 1.27GAA/.934SV%) enters his likely last college hockey game as a decorated player with everything from First Team All-American to Conference Champion to record holder (most wins in a single season- 38 and most career shutouts 34) except a National Championship. He only faced 17 shots from the Gophers but has a postseason save percentage of .924 and shutout Notre Dame to reach the Frozen Four.
The defense gives McKay little to worry about, allowing only 18.9 shots per game, the fewest in the country. Sophomores Akito Hirose (37GP- 2G/24A/26PTS) and Jack Livingstone (43GP- 9G/22A/31PTS) pace the blue line in scoring. New Hampshire transfer Benton Maas (41GP- 3G/11A/14PTS) scored the Mav’s first goal against Minnesota and Captain Wyatt Aamodt (40GP- 6G/6A/12PTS) provides steady and heartfelt leadership for Mankato.
Up front, First Team All-American Center and Hudson, FL, native Nathan Smith (37GP-19G/31A/50PTS) leads the scoring with linemate and Bad Nauheim, Germany, native Julian Napravnik (39GP- 18G/31A/49PTS) following close behind. Neither player figured into the five goal outburst against Minnesota. Nor did the top line’s right winger Cade Borchardt (43GP- 15G/25A/40PTS). Brendan Furry (42GP- 13G/31A/44PTS), Clarkson transfer David Silye (42GP- 8G/9A/17PTS) and Prague, Czechia, native Ondrej Pavel (43GP- 12G/10A/22PTS) picked up the scoring against the Gophers and highlight the scoring depth on offer in Mankato. Ryan Sandelin (40GP- 21G/12A/33PTS) brings additional scoring and championship DNA; his father is three-time national champion Minnesota-Duluth Head Coach Scott Sandelin
Minnesota State’s special teams has the nation’s seventh best penalty kill (86.8%) and like Denver, did not take a single penalty in their Frozen Four game. To go along with it, the Mavs boast the nation’s third best power play (26.8%). Denver’s special teams have been more middling this season, 37th in penalty kill (79.6%) and 12th in power play (24%). Denver was the only team to get a power play in the semi-final round of the Frozen Four and went 0-3 against Michigan.
“There’s not a lot of weaknesses just like there wasn’t in Minnesota or Michigan, really a lot of the tournament teams,” said Head Coach David Carle of the Mavericks. “We played three really good teams thus far. This will be the fourth one.“
TD Garden will likely be a full building, as it was for Thursday. But this is a true neutral site. Minnesota State’s campus is 1,468 miles away and Denver’s campus is 1,977 miles away.
Puck drops at 8PM ET (7PM CT/6PM MT). These teams are great foils and excellent foes. They’re worthy teams to play in the last college hockey game of the 2021-22 season.